If you’re a regular viewer here at Left Hand Horror, you know how invested I am in this always deepening mystery. This Utah ranch has been a paranormal hotspot for years now, claiming everything from aliens to shapeshifters in their midst. I recently sat down with actor/director, Devin McGinn about his vision for this unusual horror/sci-fi amalgam. I urge you to read the interview and consult the internet before watching Skinwalker Ranch.
Fister: What unique challenges did you face with a film rooted in some degree of truth? Skinwalker Ranch threw everything at the viewer; how do you decide which parts of the dramatized truth to include?
Devin: The reason I was interested in making a movie with so many different paranormal elements together in the same space was the fact it was “Inspired by true events”. I knew it was inevitable that some people would say we just tossed everything in a blender and threw it at the screen but the real stories actually had many more elements. We are talking everything from invisible humanoid creatures to Bigfoot. In reality we left a surprising amount of material out. We have seen this genre explore many of these things on their own, possession, aliens, cryptoids etc… But here was a chance to make a film with all of them and according to many witnesses these events were absolutely true. We also never planned to officially explain what was happening at the ranch because the fact is no one has an answer and I believe that is part of the appeal of its mythology. A neat bow just did not make sense for this film. We did however chose specific phenomena that could at least have a connection in theory. Theories that some researchers actually support and we specifically allude to in the film.
Fister: How did you prepare yourself for such a tragic and paranormal-heavy story?
Devin: The paranormal ingredients for the film were all there, but the one thing it was missing was a real tragedy. Something to keep the story grounded in more than just simply investigation and survival. That’s why I added the disappearance of the Rancher’s son to the story. With most of these films it’s usually just about how can these characters get from point A to point B while trying to survive? I liked the idea of doing a found footage film centered around a tragic main character. Anchoring the story in the sadness and desperation from a character that was not driven by their own self-preservation was very attractive to me. It’s a real testament to Jon’s performance that it comes through as strong as it does and with such believability.
Fister: In your opinion, does a bit of viewer research beforehand add to the greatest impact of the film?
Devin: Absolutely. It helps to reinforce the fact that we just didn’t toss all these things in the same movie for fun. That these things are all part of this supposed true story, and in fact there are many pieces of the puzzle that did not make it into the film itself. I think having knowledge of the paranormal and scientific theories that exist in regards to this place and there are many, can help the viewer come to their own conclusions. Or at the very least help them explore them.
Fister: Absolutely. There’s a huge line between spoilers and education. What was it about the real Skinwalker Ranch that made this movie material?
Devin: The idea of a virtual “Bermuda Triangle” of the unknown tied to true events is certainly appealing but it was its fit as a found footage vehicle that really excited me. I love this type of movie when there is a reason for the cameraman to be a professional. That it can make sense that this guy could be getting decent shots even under duress for a lot of the film. I never wanted to tell a story where you’re looking through a cheap shaky camera the whole time. There is of course some of that as with this genre it’s kind of the nature of the beast, but I feel we were able to keep that to a minimum. It was a perfect fit for a “found documentary” and not just “found footage”. If you pay attention to the opening text it even mentions it was discovered among the belongings of a missing documentary filmmaker who received the footage from an undisclosed source. I always liked the idea that what you are watching was this guy’s attempt at making sense of that footage. That he had put this film together to release to the world before his disappearance.
Fister: Hands down, your favorite horror movie of all time. Why?
Devin: Aliens. I know many would argue it’s more sci-fi action than horror, but as I sat captivated in that theater as a kid I was plenty terrified. It is not only my favorite horror film but one of my favorite movies of all time. What’s amazing is how well it still holds up today. It probably inspired my love for film more than any other feature growing up.
Fister: Found footage doesn’t plan on going away anytime soon. How do you see this approach helping or hurting the future of horror films?
Devin: I think when you turn to found footage as a way to make something cheap is where you get into trouble. It can be frustrating to watch this kind of film and realize they shot it this way simply because they did not have the budget to show you anything. We actually had the budget to make a regular narrative feature. Our visual effects are strong and we give you some nice long looks at what our protagonists are dealing with. I think the Wolf attacking the truck is a great example of that. Heck, we filmed this movie on the RED Epic, the same camera used to shoot “Prometheus”. My point being we shot it found footage style because we truly believed it made sense for the story. If it’s used as a tool to heighten the experience in a way that makes sense and not hide it, I believe it can be a viable and effective vehicle for storytelling. Some people had a hard time that I had some recognizable talent such as Jon Grise in the film. I have no doubt he was the right choice. These movies to me are not so much about convincing people they are real ( I believe Blair Witch will be the last one to ride that train) but to tell the story from a certain visual perspective.
Fister: What are you working on for 2014?
Devin: There are a few Irons in the fire but it would be premature for me to go on record about any of them. I can tell you the projects I am currently looking at would all fall under standard narrative features.
Fister: What do you honestly think about the reports about the ranch?
Devin: Since I was very young the unknown has always captivated me. I love stories and conjecture involving things such as the ranch. I wouldn’t profess to know what is true and what is false but when enough witnesses and reports surface from something like this you have to think somewhere in all that information are nuggets of truth. How big or small they are is really the question. One thing is absolute fact. For undisclosed reasons and for many years now the ranch has been patrolled by armed guards 24/7. That’s certainly food for thought.
Devin: Thanks for the time!
Fister: Thank you, Devin, and congrats on your new baby! Looking forward to seeing you again.